“I hate to say it this way, but it’s good bragging rights,” said Scott Bachrach. “This is by far the best thing we’ve ever delivered in so many different ways.”
Bachrach, joined on a Google Meets video call by four (count ’em!) PR helpers, is having a superstar athlete moment. His company, Arcade1Up, which builds and sells ¾-scale retro arcade cabinets for the home market, is doing a victory lap. Having started with modest ambitions in 2018, Arcade1Up has today sold upwards of 3 million units. “We control 96.5% of the marketplace that’s out there,” he told Digital Trends.
The news that has Bachrach buzzing today, which explains the “We’re going to Disney World” gridiron swagger, is that Arcade1Up is announcing the debut of NFL Blitz, a game Bachrach says his team has been begging for since day one.
NFL Blitz, which originally debuted in arcades in late 1997, isn’t the biggest arcade game of all time. (Arcade1Up already manufactures home versions of the real heavy hitters like Pac-Man, Space Invaders and Super Street Fighter II). However, the fact that Bachrach’s company has managed to win the support of the NFL, one of the most powerful sports organizations in the world, is serious cause for celebration.
“For us to go to the NFL to begin with, we had to prove ourselves out for a while first,” Bachrach said. “[But] on the heels of [the kind of success we experienced], those dialogues started to take place.”
And, while NFL Blitz may not have broken financial records, it did do pretty great business at a time when arcades were already on their way out of the popular consciousness.
“In the year it came out, [NFL Blitz generated $650 million – in 1997 money,” Bachrach continued. “I think that’s a testament to the quality of the game that it actually drew fans back into arcades to play it. While the arcade industry itself was [moving] in a different direction, NFL Blitz was really one of those games that gave it a shot in the arm. It got people riled up.”
There is another reason Arcade1Up’s news is so impressive. NFL Blitz gathered a legion of fans upon its release thanks to its brutally frenetic arcade style of football. Picking up on where games like NBA Jam left off, NFL Blitz took the brand name and aesthetic of its sport and, in the words of Spinal Tap, cranked the whole thing up to 11.
“It’s our belief that this is like the Road Runner,” said Gene Goldberg, then the NFL’s vice president of consumer products, at the time. “[NFL Blitz] is not what goes on when players are [really] on the field. This is a cartoon.”
The difference between, say, NBA Jam and NFL Blitz is what it means to cartoonify their respective sports. Turn the NBA into a cartoon and you get the family-friendly Space Jam. Turn the NFL into a cartoon and you get World Wrestling Entertainment – complete with German suplexes and “Macho Man” Randy Savage elbow drops.
When Bachrach says that NFL Blitz got people riled, he isn’t kidding. Many of those people were employed by the NFL, which was seemingly less than happy at the time about having their sport presented as a pumped-up demolition derby. As one Vice retrospective of NFL Blitz makes clear, some of the game’s more boundary-pushing bits of brutality were essentially smuggled into the game. Although NFL Blitz hung around for a few years (helped, no doubt, by the Scrooge McDuck vaults of quarters it helped to pull in), it didn’t take long for the National Football League to do a course correction.
That Arcade1Up has managed to get a home arcade reissue is therefore something of a minor miracle.
As is the case with previous cabinets, NFL Blitz will pack multiple titles into one machine – with the original NFL Blitz, alongside sequels NFL Blitz ’99 and NFL Blitz 2000: Gold Edition.
Alongside the Hail Marys, interceptions ,and sacks you remember, the games are fit to bursting with hundreds of the originals’ players – including Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins, Jerry Rice of the San Francisco 49ers, Deion Sanders of the Denver Broncos, Cris Carter of the Minnesota Vikings, and others. There’s also a neat update in the form of online play, meaning that – for the first time ever – Blitz arcade players can compete online against other cabinet owners via Wi-Fi multiplayer and leaderboards.
There is, Bachrach acknowledges, one minor change, however. One of the most controversial aspects of the original NFL Blitz was the presence of late hits that allowed players to wallop one another after the whistle. Those have now been excised from the game; the decision was pushed by the NFL, which felt that they conveyed the wrong message regarding the health and safety of players.
“The only thing that we’ve taken out, at the NFL’s request, is what’s referred to as late hits,” Bachrach said. “But with the exclusion of late hits, it is every single thing you remember about the games.”
Determining whether the whole package will live up to the hype will take a few months more. Pre-orders for NFL Blitz Legends begin today on Arcade1Up.com, and the machine itself will be available for sale this fall, priced at $600. Branded stools representing every team in the NFL are also available for $80 each.
Can Arcade1Up continue its astonishing, against-the-odds growth? Last year saw an 80% growth in sales over the already impressive year prior? That remains to be seen. In an age in which most of the games presented by Arcade1Up could comfortably play on our smartphones, and physical media is disappearing at a terrifying clip, the idea of a company building physical replica arcade machines for homes seems counterintuitive. But, heck, it’s also working. “It’s 1,000 percent all about the emotional connection,” said Bachrach.
And never let it be said the company is aiming low. “The NFL, to me, reaches everybody,” he continued. “In the United States today, there’s 120 million households. We believe that our machines belong in 120 million households. That’s our mission. If you look at the NFL, at the broad demographics that they have – male, female, older, younger, families – our machines fit right into that sweet spot.”
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